Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

29/04/2015

The Accordion Shop

In London, in 2011, the world went crazy for a few nights and chaos flooded the streets. Shops were smashed and looted, cars were set on fire and the Police were temporarily unable to cope. What made this situation so incendiary was that, for the very first time, social media played a huge part in spreading the word and inflaming the tension.

This is the background against which writer Cush Jumbo explores how it doesn't take much to kick start the mob but, equally, it only takes a single event to stop it in its tracks.

One day Mr Ellody steps out of the front door of his accordion shop to find the world has gone mad. Everyone has received a text message reading 'Riot. The Road. 7pm Tonight' like an episode of Dr Who where aliens call them to their demise. First the kids rush to find out what is happening and then the adults follow. The resulting mayhem quickly escalates into a full blown riot as an inadequate police force ineffectually tries to scatter the troublemakers. The, just as quickly as it rose up, it died down.

A large cast of talented youngsters create the chaotic night on a stage strewn with the mess that any inner city street is prone to.

This production is supported by both Curve Young Company and The National Theatre's Connections programme and will go on to be performed at Warwick Arts Centre. As part of Curve's Inside Out Festival it was especially aimed at teenagers and it was gratifying to see a large part of the audience was made up of family and friends; many, I am sure, in a live theatre for the first time. A very welcome added benefit of these new shows.

As the piece only lasted 30 minutes we wandered into the Lyric Lounge, the festival's FREE pop-up acoustic music stage in Curve's spacious foyer. We paused for 20 minutes to take in some mellow jazz hosted by local singer/writer Carol Leeming

The Inside Out Festival runs until 6 May. Full details at Inside Out website

First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 29/4/2015



24/04/2015

Mrs Green, the musical

As part of Curve's Inside Out Festival we are cordially invited into the shambolic front room of Mrs Mabel Green, ex-soul singer, current arthritic pothead, ASBO'd pensioner and surrogate mother to various lost souls in Nottingham's Basford. Surrounded by the detritus of her past life she is sifting through it prior to a holiday, and possible permanent stay, in Spain or a return to sheltered accommodation. Surrounded by her memories and the various young scallies she mentors she is encouraged to regale them with songs from her past. Then when her old singing partner turns up and the old bitchy rivalry surfaces as the one time friends tear each other apart and then put the past behind them.

This is Nottingham's answer to Gangsta Granny filtered through Mrs Brown's Boys and The Royale Family with loads of original songs by Nic Harvey, artistic director of Sheep Soup, the production company behind Mrs Green, who also wrote the show and played keyboard and guitar onstage. Major plaudits must got to Ben Welch as the eponymous Mrs Green and Shauna Shim as Vivian De Wilde, her old singing partner. These two especially tore up the stage when they went head to head.

Mrs Green, The Musical is on at Curve again on Saturday 25 April and out on tour.More details on their website www.sheepsoup.co.uk

First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 24/4/2015



23/04/2015

Shiv

I was again back in Curve's Studio space but this time for a conventionally staged piece of theatre. Shiv is the centrepiece, the jewel in the crown of this year's Inside Out Festival, and rightly so. A lavish story of a girl's lost father, a realisation of the reality of his story telling adventures and a failed love affair all played out at the side of a lake, the scene of her beloved father's shattered dreams.

An atmospheric set of a lone, shabby mattress sat on the decking beside the water is imaginatively lit to flit between the girl's Punjabi childhood and her American adulthood and back again. The story, liberally littered with Star Trek references and allusions, is in turns laugh out loud and almost tearful as old, buried secrets are realised and bared.

This play, having its European premier at Curve and produced in-house, is beautifully constructed by author Aditi Brennan Kapil and reflects the tensions of being brought up 'between worlds'. A feeling which must be resonate with many of Leicester's second generation immigrants, a pleasing number of whom were out supporting this locally cast production.

In the role of Shiv was Emily Lloyd-Sani, a Midlands bred actress working at Curve for the first time; Andrew Josh, playing Bapu her father, is fast becoming a regular at Curve; Ian Keir Attard plays Gerard, Shiv's potential love interest, and is a newcomer to Leicester. Finally Robin Bowerman plays The Professor, Bapu's nemesis, and is a welcome returning visitor to Curve.

Shiv is on until Sat 25 April in the Curve Studio.

Inside Out is in its second year and was created to showcase all manner of local-based productions and performances. A wide range of shows at very accessible ticket prices are on until 6 May. There are also a lot of free events including the innovative Inside Out Park, a mini music festival in the Curve foyer, and The Lyric Lounge, a free pop up live literature festival all day on Saturday 25 April. If any of these events inspire you to get involved there are several workshops covering dance, acting and playwriting.

Full details of all the events can be found on the Curve website at www.curveonline.co.uk

First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 23/4/2015



16/04/2015

Our Country's Good

Leicester's Curve has long fostered a great working relationship with DeMontfort University which has produced such recent triumphs as Mother Clap's Molly House last year. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about this year's choice.

I am not a fan of theatre in the round and this production demonstrated all the pitfalls of this 'trendy' staging. A lot of dialogue passed me by purely because the actors happened to be facing away from me in an attempt to give all sides of the audience attention. I am not some Werthers sucking pensioner with fading batteries in their hearing aids so can't pass this off as mere infirmity.
Maybe the play itself was partly to blame as it jumped from scene to scene, at one moment tub thumping liberal Penal Reform treatise, the next the broad comedy of a play within the play. Or maybe it was just the less than perfect acoustics of Curve's Studio mezzanine. Suffice to say I quickly tired of straining my ears in an abortive attempt to follow some of the dialogue. Maybe amplification would have helped.
Another disadvantage of staging in the round is that there are no backdrops; no short cuts for establishing a location. However, this production worked round this admirably with lots of props and costumes to instantly convey the various parts of the penal colony in all its horrors and handsomely conveyed the assumed central message of the inequities of the conviction and abuse of felons transported to Australia in the 18th century

Utilising the Curve's hi tech facilities there was an imaginative and unobtrusive background soundtrack which helped cover scene changes and create atmosphere.

Despite the shortcomings of the play itself the cast, in the main, did a sterling job with the material they had to work with. Creative choreography meant changes onstage were done quickly and seamlessly; costume changes quickly done allowed the doubling up by actors that the author intended. With the exception of a couple of actors the entire cast's diction and projection worked well when they were facing me!

Our Country's Good is on at Curve until Saturday 18 April.

First published in WesternGazette
© Paul Towers 2015



15/04/2015

Back Down

Back down is the story of three close friends who, prior to one leaving for uni, plan one last adventure. Luke, Zia and Tommy have been close since meeting in year 5. Luke is the relatively sensible organised one, Zia is the uptight Muslim boy and Tommy is the not so bright one with an over-active imagination. Between the three of them they seem to muddle through.

So, this last hurrah is a trip into wildest Wales to climb Snowdon. We quickly find out that Tommy has organised it. Not. So it is bound to go belly up. But along the way they straighten out their places in the group and learn how to move on into adulthood. A sort of Brummie Inbetweeners, if you like, peppered with references to action movies, as teenage boys tend to do.

What ensues is an amazingly funny and revealing piece of writing by first time playwright Steven Camden, renowned spoken word artiste, and based on a real life experience. The author's antecedents explain exactly why the writing is so descriptive and narrative driven, none more so than when drugs come into the tale.

Produced by Birmingham Rep, this touring show stars Sam Cole, Waleed Akhtar and Lawrence Walker who very capably portray the three boys as well as the sinister Rafe.

Back Down is on at Upstairs at The Western again on Thursday 16 April and then on tour til at least the end of May



First published in Western Gazette
(c) Paul Towers 15/4/2015


14/04/2015

Oh What A Lovely War

In 1963 the legend that was Joan Littlewood had her final hurrah at the Theatre Royal Stratford with arguably her finest piece of theatre chronicling and satirising the appalling waste that was World War 1, 'The War To End All Wars'

Compiled from a collection of WW1 songs collected together by the BBC, Littlewood discarded the safe and vapid arrangements, instead encouraging her motley cast to sing them as though in they were 'stuck in the trenches, dirty, lousy, hungry, waiting for the next bomb to blow your heads off'. This gives the production a rawness interspersed with the necessary gallows humour that those going to certain death use to mask their fear. The story is largely put together using authentic sources; Haig's own speeches, church sermons, newspaper headlines and official statistics 'revealing the horrifying truths of which the country gradually became aware'.

Famously transferred to film by Sir Richard Attenborough (see, I knew I could get a Leicester reference in somewhere!) with an interstellar cast set on Brighton's West Pier, this timely revival has been touring since last year, the hundredth anniversary of the start of the massacre of the 10 million soldiers.

Set within the framework of a Pierrot show, a travelling band of clowns who sang and told stories typically in seaside Edwardian towns, there are plenty of nods to the film. The stage set is a pair of filigree stairs reminiscent of Brighton Pier's ironworks with clever use of backdrops, video footage, montages and an LED tickertape. A multitude of props fly on and off the busy stage as scenes change to various European countries and in an out of the trenches. Add to this the what must be hundreds of costumes, and you have a very hard working cast adeptly switching roles, accents and even languages at a pace that makes the head spin trying to follow them.

While the clowning of the white suited Pierrots may look harmless at first their satirical gambolling masks the unpalatable truth of the political posturing of the Officers and Politicians from the safety of their posts miles from the front line while thousand upon thousand of cannon fodder are routinely shipped out from home under the guise of 'doing their patriotic duty'.

A muti-talented cast of twelve are led by Ian Reddington and Wendi Peters, both late stalwarts of the soaps, both here showing their extreme versatility, and a live orchestra secreted in a traditional pit at the front of the stage.

First published in Western Gazette
(c) Paul Towers 14/4/2015




13/04/2015

Return to Forbidden Planet

If you are a fan of old black and white Saturday morning cinema sci-fi B serials, of 60's rock and roll or just good old fashioned musical theatre then the current tour of Return To Forbidden Planet is right for you.
Based very loosely on Shakespeare's The Tempest, Bob Carlton has fashioned an homage to those old Saturday morning space adventures of old with a stomping soundtrack of familiar rock tunes from the 60's, all combined with the most tenuous of storylines (but weren't they always preposterous?) and a healthy dose of comedy.
The amazing cast, triple threat performers who can act, sing and play a variety of instruments live onstage, bounce around the space craft set sending up every genre they stumble across. Nothing is safe from a torrent of Shakespearean puns, modern sci-fi references and musical quips all delivered in a mixture of faux iambic pentameter and modern asides. The former taking a few minutes to get used to, but then it seems as natural as breathing.
The plot, what there is of it, follows the fortunes of a space ship that is dragged to the surface of a planet by an evil scientific genius (aren't they always?). There follows the antics of the combined crew plus a couple of randoms from the planet as they fight the despot. As is to be expected the dashing, slightly dumb, handsome captain is lusted after by the evil genius's daughter who is, in turn, lusted after by the ship's cook. The moral compass is guarded by the obligatory camp robot who somehow manages to sort everything out in time for the final curtain.
The set is a suitably futuristic cage of chrome pipes and dalek-esque steps housing two drum sets and numerous musical instruments, each passed around from performer to performer as required by this multi-faceted cast. Great lighting effects illuminate the appropriately cheesy special effects crowned by the entirely unexpected, but eminently suitable appearance of Queen's Brian May as the narrator. What else can you ask for?
Return to The Forbidden Planet is on at Curve until Saturday 11 April

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 9/4/2015

Darwin

Charles Darwin, the innovative naturalist who debunked creationism with scientific research around the world on his famous voyage aboard The Beagle shares the story of his early career vacillation from Doctor to Clergyman and finally to botanist and thence to the finishing of his book detailing the Origin of Species, how man and animals evolved.
As we took our seats in a packed Upstairs at The Western Charles Darwin was sitting at his desk playfully jesting with us as we searched for a spare seat. Surrounded by the paraphernalia of his researches into the origin of species, the esteemed scientist sets the tone for an evening of education, entertainment and songs.
Imagine a script by Alexander Armstrong, Ben Miller and Stephen Fry performed by Eddie Izzard and you have some idea of the high brow hilarity and low brow jokes that ensued. Darwin's early life is spread out for all to see peppered with 'big ideas, terrible puns, brilliant physical comedy and ... original songs' clearly in the style of the late great Jake Thakeray.
In the expert hands of John Hinton Tangram Theatre's second offering of one-man shows after their acclaimed Einstein is an hilarious but educational romp from start to finish. Anyone who likes Horrible Histories will love this show peopled by a myriad of characters ably created by the solitary actor.
This critically acclaimed show should be required viewing for every school child giving, as it does, a perfect introduction to the mysteries of evolution.
Darwin is touring all over the country and dates can be found on the Tangram Theatre's website

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 3/4/2015

Hidden Stories Book Launch

Affective Digital Histories: Recreating De-Industrialised Places, 1970s – Present explores the hidden and untold stories of the people who lived and worked in former industrial buildings at two locations in the East Midlands: Leicester's Cultural Quarter and Glossop, a mill town in North Derbyshire.
The project has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is based at the University of Leicester and is complimented by an app called Hidden Stories Leicester available on both iStore and Google Play. In addition loads more information about the book, the project and the archive references can be found on http://affectivedigitalhistories.org.uk/
Tonight, Tuesday 31st March, was the launch of the book of 'Hidden Stories', an illustrated collection of stories commissioned for the project. The occasion was marked with readings by several of the authors, including Carol Leeming, and a short film by Mark Goodwin of his poem Mist's Rave. The event was compered by editor Corinne Fowler.
Settling into the comfy seating of Phoenix's Screen 1 we were treated to a mixed bag of performances of a variety of styles of writing. Corinne Fowler kicked off proceedings with a warm welcome and a short treatise on the history of the project. Next up was Divya Ghelani and her story of the Imperial Typewriter Company in East Park Road. This was followed by Carol Leeming with an extract from acclaimed chorepoem Live The Life You Live, David Devanney's Crows Step in The Quarter, Pete Kalu Fereshteh Mozaffari's 5 Glossop Cats and finished off with Mark Goodwin's aforementioned short film.
The book is available to buy from the Phoenix and will be available in book stores soon.

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 1/4/2015

Gerard McChrystal

When Upstairs at The Western first opened Gerard McChrystal was in the first season's schedule and has now returned to give us a second taste of his soporific saxophones.
Back in the late 70's I lived in a garret flat just off Brighton seafront. The year I was there we experienced a white Christmas and my abiding memory is of an ardent suitor serenading me on a saxophone under the lamplight in the corner of the snow covered square four flights down from my bay window. The haunting sounds drifted up to me as I watched the golden instrument glisten in time to the music. To this day I hold a special place in my heart for this most romantic of wind instruments.
Happily ensconced in the back row of the theatre I was entranced at the versatility of Gerard McChrystal and his trio of saxophones. Backed only by something he called a loop machine, some creative reverb on the various microphones and a couple of backing tracks, Gerard entertained us with a wide range of music, back stories of many of the pieces and a few bad jokes, all delivered in his lilting Northern Irish brogue.
Along the way he explained some of the tricks of the trade of a hard working saxophonist including circular breathing, a neat trick for a 50 year old asthmatic saxophonist, as he readily points out. It was a surprise to me to find that playing a sax is not just a case of blowing into a piece of brass with keys. All sorts of unlikely sounds can be generated with a little know how and a lot of practice.
The evening was a nice mixture of classical pieces alongside new compositions. So even if one genre wasn't exactly to your taste the next piece would surely get your toes tapping.
Further details of this talented artiste can be found at www.saxsaxsax.com/index.php

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 8/3/2015

Yours Desperately Dan & Lydia


Dan Nicholas has long been a favourite in Leicester and this new show, paired with local stand-up Lydia Rickards, was very much to the taste of the packed audience at Upstairs at The Western. The home crowd laughed and roared at every absurdity of romance that this talented pair of writer/performers threw at them.
A bare stage populated by a couple of kitchen chairs and the obligatory Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival banner acting as a screen to hide their metaphorical dressing up box was all they needed to drag us through the highs and lows, especially the lows, of trying to find that elusive 'one'. Leaving aside how it should be and how it would love to be, this was simply how it is to be unrequitedly in love.
The show is a series of sketches and stand-up on the theme of, appropriately for the day before Valentine's Day, failed romance.
Dan Nicholas is a surreal comedian who seems to be channeling Emo Philips, Joe Pasquale and Milton Jones but equally can act and has had sell-out Edinburgh Festival shows with his Conversation Garden. Lydia Rickards is an alumni of DMU's Footlights Club 2010 and has made a name for herself doing stand-up around the country. Teaming up together the ginger and the geek seem to have hit on a winning partnership and I look forward to their next show.
Dan Nicholas can be seen around Leicester in the next few days at St Martin's Coffee Shop on Sat 14th Feb, at Embrace Arts on Sat 21st Feb and back at St Martin's Coffee Shop on Sun 22nd Feb.

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 14/2/2015

Peter Antoniou

Let me first say that I do not believe in psychics, fortune tellers or mediums. To my mind they are charlatans of the first degree, preying on the vulnerable and needy. Like Harry Houdini I would like to believe but my intelligence and common sense says they are con men and women. So I was expecting the worst when I turned up at Upstairs at The Western for the first of their Dave' Leicester Comedy Festival gigs. This was surely going to be a room full of desperate lost souls looking for some sort of comforting words from beyond the grave. I am pleased to say I was completely won over, though not for the reasons you might think.
Peter Antoniou is a very geeky and personable young man who has taken the theatrical extravaganza that Derren Brown has perfected and scaled it down for an intimate venue like U@W. I don't know whether playing to a quite tipsy audience was a help or a hindrance for him but Antoniou managed to be right at least 80% of the time when reading the various people he picked out/on.
He is most defiantly NOT a psychic but his ability will astound and entertain you. As is appropriate for a comedy festival, Peter has a very large dose of humour and self deprecation woven around his mental tricks.
The show ran wildly over time, probably because he was having such fun with us, and the finale/denouement was worthy of any of Derren Brown 's big theatre shows and left the audience gasping in appreciation. Definitely a show to catch. As his very accurate publicity says "Improvised comedy meets psychic demonstration in a show that will fondle your frontal lobe, tickle your funny bone and reveal things about your past, present and future that no one could possibly know. So sit back, relax and prepare to wonder, is your mind safe?"


First published in Western Gazette © Paul Towers 6/2/2015

Upstairs at The Western 2015

It seems like only yesterday that I was eagerly anticipating Upstairs at The Western's bulging schedule of comedy gigs for Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival 2014 and here I am passing on a quick resume of the events for this year.
Following last years over scheduling the theatre has pared back on the number of Festival gigs and has, instead, run them into their spring programme.
This season sees a myriad of different genres of performance reflecting the needs of the community, for this is indeed a community venue, local and community supported.
The Comedy Festival, of course, is stuffed with chortles and guffaws from the likes of Peter Antoniou, The Happy Medium on Fri 6th Feb; Graduated and (still) gagging, a welcome return of DMU's Footlights-esque alumni after their Edinburgh festival triumph; Pariss - Political Correctness Gone Mad, a one off visit to Leicester of the Bag in Drag in a late night cabaret show on Sat 7 Feb at 11.30 (bar open til 1am!); Western favourite Dan Nicholas is back with a 'melodramatic comedy with serious issues' on Fri 13 Feb; and I am especially looking forward to the return of the team who brought us Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks last year with their new show Those Magnificent Men on Fri & Sat 20 & 21 Feb.
Upstairs at The Western continues its support of emerging talent with another series of workshops including those for puppetry, poetry and stand up comedy. Anyone wanting to get involved should go to their website and follow the links http://upstairsatthewestern.com/

First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 23/1/2015

Miss Saigon

As vibrant and varied as our local theatre scene is, occasionally you need to get down to the 'big smoke' to see one of those huge West End productions. So it was that I ventured down the M1 to the Prince Edward Theatre to see Cameron Mackintosh's long overdue revival of Miss Saigon. Of course the show famously features the amazing effect of a helicopter descending onto the stage, but this is not the only mind blowing spectacle of this production and the pyrotechnics and lighting effects combine to immerse you in the traumatic times in which the story is set.
Housed in the beautifully restored and renovated 1930's Prince Edward Theatre this show is a feast for the eyes and ears. Settling into our seats we were awed by the proscenium arch which seemed to stretch upwards forever and was dressed as a rattan wall. As the live orchestra in the pit struck up the overture it was immediately obvious we were in for a raucous night. The curtain rose to a melee of Vietnamese and American GI's jockeying for favours and indulgences. From that moment on there was no let up on the energy as the twin stories of a desperate 'entrepreneur' trying to get out of the country to what he thinks is the promised land of America and the love story of one of his girls and an American soldier.
With a huge cast it is probably unfair to single out individual performers but Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer is the lynchpin of the show and Eva Noblezada as Kim deserves special mention, especially as this is Eva's professional debut.
This was a production that is well worth the trip down to London. If ever it tours it will, by necessity, have to be pared down so grab any chance you have to see the full experience in the West End

© Paul Towers 11/12/2014

Women's Aid Fundraiser

Women's Aid Leicestershire was established in 1974 to support the first refuge in Leicester for women and children fleeing domestic violence. WAL relies heavily on donations and commercial support especially as their meagre council funding is under threat. To this end regular fund raisers are organised and The Western, and in particular Upstairs at The Western, hosted an evening of entertainment on Friday 29th November.
The evening started off with The Red Leicester Choir not, as may be assumed, anything to do with our local cheese, but a 'socialist choir' singing in unaccompanied four-part harmony with a repertoire of 'historical and contemporary songs expressive of social and political protest'. The choir occupied a corner of the downstairs bar and soon captured the attention of the assembled drinkers who applauded each song.
Upstairs in the theatre after the choir had warmed the audience up, we were treated to an extraordinary hour of clowning interspersed with harrowing tales of domestic abuse. Elaine Panting's self penned burlesque tale of the scary realities behind suburban respectability in turn tickles your ribs before breaking your heart. The clown, having more to do with Stephen King's IT than Charlie Cairoli circus fool, turns out to be just as manipulative and controlling as any of the obvious abusers.
This informative and entertaining piece of theatre should be required viewing for every teenager, especially the girls.
If you need to contact someone about domestic abuse in Leicestershire then visit www.wa-leicester.org.uk or call 0116 283 2225. There is also a Leicestershire County Domestic Violence Helpline 0300 303 1844

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 29/11/2014

Trip Advisor

Situated above a pub in the heart of Leicester’s student quarter, what is not to like about the city’s only pub theatre?
Now in its second very successful year I have managed to see many productions including a whole raft of this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival gigs
Not only does this intimate 60 seater host a myriad of visiting productions it is also home to Off The Fence Theatre company which is responsible for, amongst others, the nationally touring Clamber Up The Crucifix and England Expects, both commemorating this year’s centenary of World War 1.
Entering the pub you are immediately struck by its olde worlde decor, walls decorated with old beer advertisements and a freize of beer mats through the ages and the warm welcome from both the pub and theatre staff.
Don’t be put off by the fact that this little theatre is above a pub, included in this season’s brochure are plenty of productions suitable for children from 4 upwards. Obviously many things are very unsuitable for younger audiences but they are clearly notated in the brochure.
Overall I would heartily recommend Upstairs at The Western, especially if you want to visit the theatre on a budget. With many productions only charging £10 a ticket this is a welcome change from the prices charged by mainstream theatres.
Published on Trip Advisor 10/11/2014

Bag Lady

Bag Lady is the latest piece of theatre by local government Arts Officer Marcia Layne continuing her association with Hidden Gems Productions. Ms Layne is a prolific writer of plays both for the theatre and radio.
Bag Lady is, I think, about the varying degrees of mental health issues a sufferer endures. However, confusingly, levered into the first half hour is a rant about the historical mistreatment of Afro Caribbeans in the 19th century. Whether this was a signal of Eve's deteriorating mental state wasn't made clear. Maybe her cultural sense of victimisation gave her some justification for her poor mental health. Is she really mentally ill or just culturally bitter?
Eve's bustling entrance onto the stage amid a confusion of her wordly goods in a myriad of bags is followed by her ordering the contents in a way that only she can make sense of. She clutches the debris she considers her life to her chest like a security blanket. However, contrary to the title, Eve is not homeless, she is not completely dysfunctional. She has a house and a life. It is just that her life is contained in bags which she can easily move around as she tries to decide what she can afford to discard. There follows a series of flashbacks, interspersed with delusional episodes, illustrating her journey to her present state. A history of alcohol and physical abuse may explain her current problems which she tries to articulate as only a gutter philosopher can.
What can be in no doubt is that Flo Wilson's portrayal of Bag Lady Eve is a powerhouse of a performance as she veers from commentator to analyst to abusee; the light and dark in her performance reflecting the rising and falling of Eve's mental state. The drama and depression is interspersed with humour, as so often happens in life if you look for it.
Bag Lady is on at Upstairs at The Western until Friday 24 October and on tour
© Paul Towers 24/10/2014

Abigail's Party

When Beverly Moss decides to throw a party everyone else has to bow to her wishes. Over-worked husband Laurence tries to please her as best he can while new neighbour Ang and Tony, invited to introduce them to the rest of the Close, are shell shocked at first but are soon coerced into the enforced jollity that Beverly bullies everyone into. Also dragged into the mayhem is old neighbour Sue whose 11 year old daughter, Abigail, is throwing the titular party.
And so the scene is set for a savage satire of aspirational suburbia of the seventies, and especially Essex. Beverly's adenoidal estuary twang and braying laugh punctuate her desperate attempts to show she has risen above her roots. A monster, of course, but a deeply sad and unfulfilled one.
As the party progresses the brittle atmosphere between Bev and Laurence serves to open up cracks in all their relationships until the pressure gets too much and it all ends in tears.
Alison Steadman famously created the role of Beverly both in the original production and in the subsequent famous portrayal on BBC. Wisely Natalie Thomas has not tried to emulate her portrayal but still retains the very worst of her vocal tics. Ably supported by a cast of four others this provides an evening of laugh out loud moments in amongst the cringe worthy characterisations.
Director Suba Das's in the round staging does mean that some of the audience misses some of the facial expressions but this doesn't really detract from the piece. However, it does have the advantage of brining the audience right into Beverly's living room thereby appreciating the excruciating attention to detail, from the garish carpet (very accurate from memory) to the upmarket (then) ghastly Maples furniture.
Abigail's Party runs at Curve until Saturday 8 November

© Paul Towers 21/10/2014

Amsterdam

I have to say that I am not a fan of performance poetry so I approached this production with trepidation. Several people had urged me to give it a go so I duly turned up at Upstairs at The Western prepared to be bored and disengaged. How wrong I was. This is not poetry as I know, and fear, it. I would describe it as structured prose. There is a rhythm to it which becomes almost unnoticeable but which gives it a metre.
Amsterdam by Chanje Kunda is the story of a single mother an opportunity for some excitement in her life. A black Shirley Valentine if you will. Inventively staged with a set full of gaps, spaces and even hidden furniture, Chanje is stuck in a domestic rut as evidenced by her initial costume of domestic detritus. Given a chance to escape rain sodden Manchester if only for a while she ends up in Amsterdam jumps into an adventure which reignites the female identity which had become buried beneath her role as a mother. With her distinctive Mancunian accent she, surprisingly, ends up as Artist In Residence at a club with a sexy boyfriend tending to her needs. Chanje's emotional bliss soon palls, however, when she is betrayed by her new love.
Using her physicality to shorthand emotions, Chanje inhabits every inch of the complex set to display a wide range of passions throughout her journey. The romantic adventure is hilariously counterpointed by her Mother's exhortations to be a good African daughter.
Amsterdam is touring the country and can be seen in Bradford, London, Liverpool, Bracknell and Doncaster in the next few weeks. www.chanjekunda.com 

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 2014

Bane

It is not often that we in Leicester are privileged to be visited by an internationally acclaimed phenomenon but tonight, Sunday, I was in the audience of a show at Upstairs at The Western which blew my breath away.
Bane is a comic Raymond Chandler-esque gangster thriller with a script that could be by Mel Brooks or Woody Allen; think Who Killed Roger Rabbit without the annoying cartoons!
Very much in the vein of Sunset Boulevard Bane starts with the apparent death of Bruce Bane, our hero; a gumshoe in the 30's tradition, Bane wisecracks his way in and out of trouble in an hour of laugh out loud moments and hilarious vignettes. Murder, sex and drink are lifeblood to our Bruce. Add into this pleasing mix actor/author Joe Bone's immense talent for physical comedy and you have a complete movie on a bare stage with one man and a guitarist, Ben Roe, playing a score specifically written for the show. I especially liked the way that the guitar never intruded and was very cleverly used to punctuate the action and add atmosphere. So often the soundtrack or music overpowers the actors. Not the case here.
Bone's uncanny ability to change personality before your eyes means you are utterly convinced that you are watching a cast of dozens in every cliched location that the genre demands. Incredibly accurate sound effects are provided by Bone and Roe live on stage.
Joe Bone's undoubted stage skills are superbly complimented by his script. Often watching a 'written, performed and directed by the actor' piece can be excruciating but Bone avoids every self indulgent trap there is to produce a perfect piece of intimate theatre.
This is the first of a trilogy which has finally landed up in the UK after working its way round the world. Watch out for any of the three episodes and grab a ticket for an evening of fast paced hilarity on a shoestring!

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 13/10/2014

Live The Life You Love

Everybody's Reading is a 9 day festival of all things reading; whether it is about starting to write, read or just discuss, this Leicester festival aims to facilitate that interest.
A Chorepoem is really a dramatised monologue, but acted rather than just narrated. The form is something that the author is rapidly making her very own.
Local writer, singer and teacher Carol Leeming was commissioned to write three pieces of work based around Leicester's Cultural Quarter. Live the Life You Live is the second of this trilogy following on from The Loneliness of The Long Distance Diva.
Tonight was the very first reading of the piece by the author at Leicester University's Embrace Arts Centre in the Richard Attenborough Centre on Lancaster Road.
An expectant crowd gathered for a very different piece from Long Distance Diva. Written to be performed by a beautiful 20 something, mixed race gay man this was the story of 1980's Leicester and how a young man could not feel part of any community due to his heritage. Abandoned by dysfunctional parents, Maz grows up using the one thing he has, his body, to get by.
Carol Leeming's uncanny ear for the Leicester vernacular, honed no doubt by her undoubted musical talents, peppers this tale with her very idiosyncratic aphorisms, beautifully descriptive 2 or 3 word phrases which invoke all manner of emotions. Her reading of the piece brought it to life like no other.
Meeting a Scouse Toff in a gay club, Maz has to confront racism and mental illness and almost his own demise before hopefully emerging a more centred person.
I can't wait to see this transformed into a complete theatrical show

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 3/10/2014

A Slice of Saturday Night

For those of us who don't remember (ahem!) the 60's A Slice of Saturday Night is a perfect example of those more innocent times; a social life that revolved largely around Youth Clubs and Coffee Bars and, horror of horrors, no internet. Life seemed simpler then but was just as complicated for teenagers burdened with out of control hormones.
Staged imaginatively to accommodate a large cast, for the Western, of eight plus an onstage keyboard player and with no amplification, the talented cast of mainly amateur actors showed an extensive range of musical talent and acting abilities.
The Upstairs at The Western, having been refurbished over the summer, showed its adaptability by having the stage removed, the lighting box relocated and extra seats put in to accommodate the sell out crowd all this week. This new versatility enables large casts to perform while, replacing the stage makes it much more intimate for solo performers.
A Slice Of Saturday Night was first performed in 1989 and had a respectable couple of West End runs in 1993 and 2010 inbetween almost continuous worldwide touring versions and slightly sanitised school versions.
The story is of the trials and tribulations of a bunch of teenagers on a Saturday night out in a typically seedy 60's cellar club. With a soundtrack of 60's song pastiches with sometimes very adult lyrics it is a feel good slice of a time long gone. Along the way we see a mix of teenage angst and bravado played out by a strong cast, especially the physically comedic boys.
The original soundtrack has long been a favourite on my iPod so I was delighted to see this show in this season's schedule at Upstairs at The Western and it didn't disappoint. Almost recognisable tunes interspersed with laugh out loud moments combine to make a great evening's entertainment.
While the production runs to Saturday 27th September it is highly unlikely you will get a ticket as it is almost sold out apart from the Saturday matinee. My advice is to get on the phone and see if you are lucky and grab a last ticket.

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 26/9/2014

The Kite Runner

Kite Runners abound in many Asian countries and was refined to a high art in Afghanistan until the Taliban banned it in 1996, suspecting it of being an excuse to spy on women and children outside the immediate family. Absolute paranoid rubbish of course.
While kite flying is a widespread, and cheap pastime it was inevitable that a competitive streak emerged and kite fighting became a very cheap sport. Glass chips were glued onto the strings and airborne fights ensued as fliers battled to cut the strings of their rivals.
Against this background unfolds the tragic tale of two childhood friends, born at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum and divided by religious differences. Despite their disparities they grew up as best friends. Hassan's father working as a servant for Amir's father and the boys were encouraged to play together, kite running being a hobby they both excelled at. Hassan was a servant, knew his place and was happy there, serving his Father's Master and his best friend.
This play takes us from the relative calm and balance of early 70's Afghanistan where a Raj-like opulence reigned for the privileged few, through the turmoil of civil war that ensued when King Zahir Shah was overthrown, invasion by Russia in 1979 to today's continuing unrest between various religious factions. Through all this upheaval the old order of Master and Servant was destroyed and both classes often ended up fleeing side by side.
The first half was necessarily harrowing in its depiction of the fall of the old order in Afghanistan. However, a very incongruous start to the second half could have done without the cod hippy comedy turns which were totally out of place. The second half could have been trimmed by 20 minutes easily and meant we got out of the theatre by 10.30 .
In Kahled Husseini's fictional re imagining of tales from his life old secrets are revealed and scores settled as Amir moves from Afghan wealth to American safety with a wife. Ben Turner's Amir and Andrei Costin's Hassan deserve especial praise for their strong performances.
The return to Nottingham of The Kite Runners is a welcome one as a sold out Tuesday night bore testament. The staging is simple but very effective while the lighting is a master class in creative illumination and the kites of the title are superbly created to give the illusion of flying. My only gripes were with the sound. Some of the cast were not very adept at projection which led to some of the dialogue being inaudible and there was a peculiar sound track of what sounded like a glass having its rim rubbed. Very annoying and offputting. Praise does have to go to the on-stage drummer who provided an atmospheric but unobtrusive addition to the tension. The scenery was very imaginatively created with some amazing projections onto giant kites that folded down from above when needed.
The Kite Flyers is at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 6th September 2014

© Paul Towers 3/9/2014
First published in Western Gazette

Upstairs at The Western Autumn 2014 Launch

With my favourite intimate theatre space closed for the summer I was excited to be invited to Upstairs at The Western for the launch of their Autumn 2014 season and the unveiling of the refurb of the theatre itself.
During the recent heat wave the Western elves have been busy putting in raked seating, lowering the stage and resiting the stage lights to enable improved lighting design.
This is all in preparation for the new season of original plays, visiting performances and a host of community artistic projects and workshops.
Off The Fence's very successful in house productions of England Expects and Clamber Up The Crucifix, both created to commemorate the start of World War One a hundred years ago, are back prior to extensive UK tours.
Alongside tried and trusted genres Upstairs is mixing in some new ideas. Leicester Rugby legend George Chuter is doing a Q&A session with anecdotes from his illustrious career on 16th Sept. Dan Nicholas' hugely popular Conversation Garden returns from this year's Edinburgh fringe for a final round of chaos on 31 October and Blanchard's Balloon capitalises on the success of last seasons puppetry workshops for the young with performances aimed at the 8-15's and the over 16's on 15 November
There are also the regularly popular poetry evenings, open mike nights and writing workshops encouraging both amateurs and semi-professionals to have a go and entertaining an audience
Inbetween all that there are a myriad of visiting companies covering a wide range of subjects from Alzheimers (from Robert Gee on 2 October) to Stockholm Syndrome (Inside on 25 October) to homelessness (Bag Lady 23/24 October) and many more
All listings can be found on the Western website
First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 21/8/2014

Equus

Much of my play-going recently has been in and around Leicester so it was a pleasant change to drive over to Nottingham Playhouse to see their Advance Youth Theatre's ambitious production of Peter Shaffer's Equus.
Staged in the intimate Neville Studio space the audience is ranged around three sides of a mock court room or medical lecture theatre with the ensemble cast along the back wall.
All this is to delve into the motives of one Alan Strang, a repressed, emotionally stilted teenager, who has been caught blinding six horses in a stable. Over the course of the play we slowly unravel the background to this troubled boy and, in parallel, discover some of the secrets of the very Doctor tasked with treating him. Dr Dysart's inadequacies are balanced by his healing of Alan Strang
A cast of drama students ranging from 15 to 19 means that some of the more explicit scenes have necessarily had to be cut. The notorious nude scene, Daniel Radcliffe's historic coming of age, is played only semi nude and the staging of the blinding of the horses is imaginatively represented without the rivers of blood seen in some productions.
Three actors especially deserve singling out for their mature performances. Tom Martin as Alan Strang has probably the hardest role to play swinging wildly from surly to abusive to compliant as his character tries desperately to communicate the angst within him
Acting opposite him as Dr Dysart Jacob Seelochan is tasked with moving the plot along and trying to explain to the audience the inner workings of the mind of his patient. While he is to admired for his mastery of the huge chunks of dialogue he is burdened with Jacob does need to get his head up off his chest a bit more and not gabble so much of his speech as though his mind is working faster than his mouth.
Finally special mention has to go to Dylan Sutcliff who played Nugget, Strang's especial favourite horse. Dylan's sensual physicality made you believe unconditionally that the boy could love him. Acting within the confines of the War Horse-esque horse heads made his task even harder but his character shone through and marks him out for a worthy future career in the theatre.

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 2014

Far From The Sea

Oh dear. I so wanted to be engaged with this triptych of plays by Steve Waters about Coventry, Leicester's near neighbour and the brunt of Hitler's bombardment of the Midlands. Billed as a play that 'asks what a good city might look like and how we got to where we are'. It was no such thing. It was a mish mash of unconnected pieces which were disjointed and aimless. However, in amongst this mess there were flashes of powerful writing. Such a shame they were lost amongst what passed for a plot.
The acting was faultless and equally worthy of praise was the muti purpose set; furniture and screens unfolded and revolved to furnish three different rooms. But this was all let down by the writing which rambled at times, smacked of padding in some places and occasionally made no sense at all.
The first part was a modern day Polish narrator (why?) appearing to conduct a corporate presentation in broken english almost as cringe-worthy as a David Brent seminar. Even after having watched it I have no idea what it was supposed to be about. To liven it up (?) a stooge was in the audience to heckle her. I am not a fan of ignoring the theatrical fourth wall and this failed to work, serving only to make the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats. The scene only started to make any sense when both actors belatedly clambered onto the stage and actually had a conversation. An audience, in order to engage with a production, needs to feel safe and comfortable in their seats. Leaving the house lights up and abandoning the fourth wall did completely the reverse for the first 20 minutes of this production.
Fortunately the second scene was much more theatrically conventional, lights down and all actors on the stage, and concerned the realisation that a couple's business empire was falling to pieces due to a dodgy arms deal with an Iraqi businessman in 1990. The writing, as a stand alone piece, was good enough but still failed to connect with anything else. It seemed to have no relationship to Coventry apart from highlighting that post war businesses had to diversify to survive.
The final scene, praise the lord, actually made sense in the supposed theme of the play. This was a 1950's local planning office being shown a presentation by a Polish architect (did they get extra funding from a Diversity in Arts Fund?) for the new cathedral. And we all know what a monstrosity that turned out to be!! The town planner got the chance to put his case for rebuilding the city as a functional place where people could live and Businesses could thrive. History tells us he was largely ignored!
Far from the Sea is on at Upstairs at The Western again on Friday 3rd July

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 3/7/2014

Simon's Birthday

Original Ink is made up of two former students of script writing, frustrated with not having a reliable or approachable outlet in getting their work produced, created an outlet for it.
Scufflebox Theatre was formed in 2013 as a group of enthusiastic storytellers creating devised performances to bring clarity and excitement to the works of Shakespeare and other classic texts.
Together they have created a collaborative piece of theatre detailing the coming together and unraveling of a group of childhood friends while awaiting the arrival of the titular Simon.
This play is the result of three writers starting up with three pairs of friends preparing for the party. One couple are mates, one is a brother and sister and the final one are another brother and sister. How they have and do inter-relate beyond their shared history is the driving force of the evening. Gradually lies and excuses unravel and the awful truth is revealed. Six lives will never be the same.
A cast of six expertly brings the stories of the three couples together on the small stage of Upstairs at The Western while they wait, Godot-like, for Simon to arrive.
A second performance is on Saturday 28th June

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 28/6/2014

The Definitive Rat Pack

Back in the sixties Las Vegas witnessed a phenomenon when three of the world's top class performers came together and created a magical impromptu show which sold out whenever they mounted it.
Frank Sinatra was the singer, actor and, allegedly, Mafia mascot who led the pack which comprised Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. This multi talented group of of actors and singers starred in several films and stage shows and originally centred around Humphrey Bogart until his untimely death.
For the past 10 years Stephen Triffitt, Mark Adams and George Daniel Long have taken the original The Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas show and have turned it into a touring production which pays homage to the three main protagonists, Dean, Frank and Sammy.
On at Leicester's Curve until Sat 14th June, The Definitive Rat Pack features a full 9 piece band onstage, 3 backing singers (The Gold Diggers) as well as the headliners themselves.
Steven Triffitt positively inhabits Frank Sinatra and is a master of his verbal extemporising and idiosyncratic phrasing.
Mark Adams' Dean Martin lurches drunkenly onto the stage with The Gold Diggers and lives up to his image as a laconic drunken lecher with a wicked sense of humour.
George Daniel Long's Sammy Davis Junior is a high octane bundle of energy bouncing around the stage epitomising his verbal dexterity and dance moves.
While each of the performers are excellent as their doppelgangers it is when they all come together that the magic really happens and their banter and camaraderie produces something special.
Not only is this show crammed full of the standards expected from these entertainment gods but inbetween are snippets of authentic onstage banter between the three. I was very pleased to see that much of the coarser, racist humour from the 60's has been excised and the relationship between the guys showed their obvious love for each other.
For anyone who likes swing music this is an event not to be missed. The Definitive Rat Pack is on at Leicester's Curve until Saturday 14th June

© Paul Towers 13/6/2014
First published in Western Gazette

Play For September

Fourteen year old girls want to marry their fathers. But what happens when there isn't a father around? Who do they look to for that male adult influence? And what happens when the whole thing spirals out of control?
Play for September looks at the tripartite relationship of best friends Elle and Kay and their teacher Mr Bode. Elle loves Kay and everyone thinks she is a lesbian. Kay loves Mr Bode, their English teacher, and Mr Bode laps up the attention but, ultimately, takes it too far. The fallout is catastrophic for everyone.
This powerful modern parable is written by Olivia Hirst and superbly captures the shorthand backchat between teenage best friends where a slight can be forgotten in a second and bestie status is instantly restored.
Amazingly slick performances from Rianna Dearsden and Olivia Hirst pull you deep into the complicated psych of hormonal 14 year old schoolgirls as the love triangle pulls itself apart to its inevitable conclusion. Jim Crago as Mr Bode is the core around which the maelstrom of hormonal lust revolves.
The parents of any teenage girl will be horrified at the glimpse into the mind of their daughter but knowledge is power.
Play for September is on again at Upstairs at The Western on Saturday 7th June and continues to tour.

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 7/6/2014

The Trials of Harvey Matsuow

I went into this performance assuming that Harvey Matusow was a fictional creation of writer Robert Cohen used as a theatrical device with which to tell an actual story.
As I sat through an hour and a half of spellbinding narrative I became more and more convinced that Cohen's performance and writing was fiction hung on factual events. Imagine my surprise when, on getting home and Googling Harvey Matusow, I found every word was true.
Matusow was the product of Russian immigrants who fled to America to avoid Stalin and ended up an active member of the Communist Party. In 1950 he offered himself up to the FBI and provided information to them for a fee until he was booted out of the party and subsequently dropped by the Bureau as being of no further use to them.
Having developed a taste for being a mercenary informer Matusow then offered his services to Congress as a paid expert on sniffing out the proverbial Reds-under-the-bed that a paranoid America was convinced were all around. This was an expertise he didn't actually have but over the four years he was in the pay of various departments and courts he often unjustly ruined the careers of many people by taking money to finger them as Communists. He ended up being Senator Joe McCarthy's right hand man.
In 1955 he had an epiphany and renounced his lies, ultimately being jailed for perjury and, irony of irony, being blacklisted.
Released from prison Harvey turned to the Arts when, understandably, no-one in the world of politics would speak to him. In 2002 he died of complications after a road accident.
Robert Cohen's masterful play was originally performed in 2010 at the Brighton Festival and is a welcome addition to the Upstairs at The Western summer season. Cohen's previous outing in Leicester was in the acclaimed Hi Vis which will be performed at this year's Edinburgh Festival

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 2/6/2014

England Expects @ Curve

I first saw this excellent play about 5 weeks ago at Upstairs at The Western as part of Off The Fence's World War 1 commemorations. That production starred the very capable Becca Cooper. Now, prior to a national tour, the production has been showcased at Leicester's Curve with Teresa Jennings taking over the role.
With her cut glass diction I am reminded a little of Julie Andrews playing Victor Victoria. The script is unchanged so that left me free to admire the subtle physical changes Teresa brings to the role.
Surprisingly, in the much bigger space of one of the Curve's minor performance areas the play with words still retained the intimate feel of the original Western production.
Mixing comedy, songs and pathos England Expects shows how the forced jollity of the music halls camouflaged the virtual press ganging of cannon fodder to the poppy fields of Flanders in the early 20th century. Not this country's finest hour and, 100 years on, one we should never forget or learn from.

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 20/4/2014

The Bricks of Burston

My last visit to Upstairs at The Western for their Spring Season was to see The Bricks of Burston. Ostensibly chronicling 'the longest strike in history' which was staged not by miners but by minors, this is in fact a love story of two principled teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon, and their struggle to improve the educational lot of the children of Norfolk. Their struggle with an schooling system which was mired in old methods and beholden to the local landowners and clergy culminates in the local parents and children rearing up in their support for better studying conditions and full time education.
Unusually for Upstairs at The Western this is a three handed production which, at times, makes for a crowded stage. However, that very confinement works to the advantage of the story by highlighting the claustrophobic working of small communities where everybody knows everybody else and their business.
Tiny village schools still proliferated in rural communities and married couples often took on the responsibility of educating the local children. However the close relationship between the landowners and the clergy combined to 'keep the working classes in their place' by ensuring they got only the legal minimum of education.
Alex Helm's portrayal of the controlling, vindictive and bitchy clergyman Reverend Eland represents the landowners' and Rector's concerted bullying of the Hidsons in an effort to evict them from the school when they started teaching the children that there was more to life than toiling on the land. When Tom Hidson managed to get voted onto the Parish Council their venom was intensified and the teachers were sacked on trumped up charges of child abuse. Rather than desert their charges the Hidsons set up school on the village green and thence in a disused carpenter's shop. When the lease of that building came to an end a campaign by the National Agricultural Labourers and Rural Workers Union to publicise the plight of the educators resulted in funding being donated from all over the world to set up the Burston Strike School.
Georgia Robson as Kitty and Tom Grace as Tom Higdon have a good chemistry onstage as the married couple struggling to improve the lot of their pupils.
My only small niggles with the production concern the script. Every now and again a modern vernacular creeps in and spoils the otherwise accurate portrayal of early 20th century rural life. My other gripe is that despite the production being trumpeted as being about 'the longest strike in history' it is almost discarded as incidental right at the end.
The Bricks of Burston is on again at Upstairs at The Western on Thursday 3rd April

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 2/4/2014

Desert

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (nee Bradley Manning) is a very damaged and confused person and, by all accounts, always has been.
Desert does not attempt to delve too much into the ethics of his leaking of classified US military material to Wikileaks in 2010. Rather it attempts to get inside the head of this misfit.
It is obvious that Manning, Bradley or Chelsea, should never have been in the Army, let alone as an Intelligence Officer. His deep psychological flaws should have been flagged up the minute he applied to join up. He was always going to be susceptible to all sorts of pressures to conform or rebel.
Hugely intelligent, the young Bradley was detached from mainstream society by virtue of the alcoholism of both his parents and compounded by his gayness. His geeky obsession with technology only served to further isolate him.
That fierce intellect and obsession with computer technology was what led the US Army to blindly push Manning into the security section of the military. That same intellect and obsession was also what led Manning to disclose what he thought were deficiencies and inadequacies in the way the US Army and Congress were acting overseas.
Desert dramatises Manning's time awaiting Military Court Marshall and subsequent conviction through the well accepted premis of introducing a fictitious narrator figure to move the narrative along. The totally unreasonable time kept waiting for his court appearance allows his mental state to further unravel and we see clearly how he is driven to become almost schizophrenic. Throughout his military service Manning has expressed a desire to undergo gender reassignment and it was upon his conviction that he finally began the process to become a she.
Giles Roberts portrays Bradley Manning by turns politicised and vulnerable, over-confident and defenseless, aggressor and victim. Lucy Farrett is tasked with playing his inquisitor and confidante. Both actors use the stage admirably and conjure up Manning's cell, the desert and various court premises for a spellbound audience.
First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 24/3/2014

Hairspray - The Musical

Rather than wait for the touring production of this exuberant musical to arrive in Leicester Paul Kerryson, in his final year as Artistic Director at Curve, pounced on the rights to create an in house production when they were released on a limited basis. The result is a bright, energetic romp through the music of the 60's overlain by the horrific bigotry of racial segregation that still infected many parts of the so-called civilised western world. In particular America.
The original film by John Waters (a subversive comedy god in my eyes) starred the behemoth that was Divine alongside luminaries such as Rikki Lake, Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono in 1988. It was eventually turned into a stage musical in 2002 starring Harvey Fierstein and Matthew Morrison (of Glee fame), before transferring to London in 2007 with Michael Ball, Mel Smith and Tracie Bennett and has been touring the UK ever since.
The plot involves plus-sized Tracy Turnblad and her double plus sized Mother Edna forcing an end to racial segregation in 1960's Baltimore by getting mixed coloured dancing shown on TV. Along the way we get a lesson in how true love conquers all, not only between teenagers but within the family. But buried in the lyrics there are some very subversive ideas; "In my ivory tower/ Life was just a hostess snack / But now i've tasted chocolate/ And i'm never going back" as sung by white Penny about her black lover, Seaweed.
Kerryson, with the unbelievable technology of the Curve's backstage to play with, creates a brightly coloured, spacious musical with a heart. The enormous sets fly in and out, the props swish across the floor at a rate of knots and the dancers fill the stage with outrageous routines in an array of costumes.
The cast serve him well with the main leads being taken by a couple of refugees from TV, the modern training ground for musical actors it seems. Rebecca Craven playing Tracy Turblad can currently be seen in Waterloo Road; David Witts was most recently in Eastender and Vicki Lee Taylor was in Emmerdale. Special mention should go to Tyrone Huntly who played Seaweed who should be playing in Thriller with a voice and look that can double for Michael Jackson with ease.
A sold out audience on this Wednesday evening were on their feet stamping, clapping a howling their support right up to the finale. Paul Kerryson can be proud of yet another triumphant success for Leicester's Curve. let's hope his successor can continue his unerring good work.

© Paul Towers 20/3/2014

... and this is my friend Mr Laurel

Jeffrey Holland (Spike form Hi Di Hi) has always been fascinated by Stan Laurel and now, finally, everything has fallen in to place for him to fulfil a long held dream to play his hero. Not only have he and Gail Louw come up with a beautiful script but Holland finally feels old enough to play one half of the greatest comedy double act in cinema history.
The stage is a bare black clad room with just a white painted chair and a wire frame bed suggesting the dying Oliver Hardy. This is a beautifully crafted stroll through the lives of two of the best loved comedians of the 20th century. Jeffrey Holland has somehow got both the face and the voice spot-on for his impersonation of the on-stage gormless but off-stage very astute Stanley Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson).
Told in the sometimes hesitant manor so beloved by audiences around the world, Stan Laurel has an imaginary conversation with the sleeping form of his partner. Recalling the highs and lows of both their career together and their personal lives, this affection stroll through their lives reveals not only the known highlights but also the private low points. Did anyone know that Stan lost his only son at a very tender age? Or that Ollie put up with an abusive alcoholic wife? Or that between them they kept several wedding chapels in business for years?
Interspersed in the conversation Stan remembers the old routines they used to do. Jeffrey Holland manages both voices and, surprisingly, both faces to recall fond memories of laughter from their heyday . Somehow the sadness of this being Ollie's death bed is lightened by that laughter and the knowledge that, thanks to film, that laughter will ring out for many decades to come.
'and this is my friend Mr Laurel' runs at Upstairs at The Western until Friday 21st Feb and is then at Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames on March 29

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 19/3/2014

Mother Clap's Molly House

In the late 18th century a reasonable living was to be earned hiring out fancy dresses to prostitutes on a daily basis. For 3d a day a 'working girl' could be a shepherdess or some such fantasy figure to ring the changes with her punters. For Mrs Tull working beside her husband taking care of the mending and making of frocks was an existence not even mollified by a loving relationship. The physical side of her marriage had ended years before so when her beloved Stephen keeled over with the pox, passed on by one of the girls they supplied, she was only really worried by how to run the business. It soon became apparent that she wasn't tough enough to stop the hookers taking advantage and when an unlikely source of business came along, she grasped it with both hands. And so was born the Molly House, a safe environment for the gay transvestites to dress up and party.
This rambunctious romp, couched in the coarsest of language as befits the working classes of 1726, has humour and pathos galore. The first half sets up the premis of Mother Clap, her problems and her salvation whilst the second half introduces a modern parallel universe where, supposedly, things for gays have improved. In both time zones it is obvious that often love has been sacrificed for meaningless sex. Nothing much has changed in nearly 300 years and the doubling of roles over the centuries helps the allegory of the 18th century being reflected in modern London
This production is a result of the very strong links that have been forged between Leicester's Curve and DeMontfort University which allows drama students to experience their learned craft in a professional theatre before a paying audience. An obviously very talented cast of actors, singers and dancers bring this tale to life on the Studio's brilliantly designed set. Special mention has to go to Victoria Tull, mature beyond her years, Alan Foster, a fine comic actor in the making, and Adam Gough. Although it is unfair to pick out any of the cast as they all performed beyond expectations.
Mark Ravenhill's 2001 play with music soundtrack has been given a glam rock makeover for this evening of debauchery, adult language and sexual ambiguity.

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 14/3/2014

Wrong 'Un

Another sold out night at Upstairs at The Western as Wrong 'Un, the fictional story of Annie Wilde, suffragette at the turn of the last century, relates her struggle from disruptive schoolchild through mill worker to campaigner for women's rights and the vote.
Boff Whalley has fashioned a beautifully funny play with music which, every now and then, takes a smart right turn and tears your heart out. Slotted inbetween the one-liners and Victoria Wood-esque passages there are horrifically matter-of-fact descriptions of force feeding and the low life expectancy of front line troops.
The authentically written original music is used to point up the anachronisms, to our eyes, of early 20th century's treatment of women as mere wives, mothers and dogs bodies. A combination of music hall and traditional folk, the a cappella singing drives the narrative forward as well as underlining points.
While the suffragette movement had been started in the previous century it was the horrors of The Great War which finally persuaded the government that women had a much more productive role to play in society. It is, however, to their great shame that originally they granted votes only to the over 30's, property owners and the wives of property owners. In other words, the middle classes.
The author has explained her need to tell this story by relating how a friend came across a cache of letters, photos and press cuttings and she showed her. This sparked her interest and she put pen to paper and Wrong 'Un was born.
Ella Harris, as Annie Wilde, portrays her as, in turn, sharp, fun and intelligent. Looking like Old Mother Riley and sounding as though she had stepped straight out of an old episode of Coronation Street, Harris slips effortlessly from character to character, man to woman and back again.
Wrong 'Un is one of those pieces which should be compulsory viewing for everyone, especially school children.
Wrong 'Un continues its very successful tour in Poole, Havant, Otley and Helmesley
Red Ladder Theatre Company
First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 12/3/2014

England Expects

A second sold out night at Upstairs at The Western saw the premiere of 'England expects ...', the experiences of music hall star Vesta Tilley during the Great War. Written by Tom Glover, directed by Gary Phillpott and performed by Becca Cooper, this is part of Off The Fence Theatre Company's World War One centenary remembrance (I wanted to say celebration but no war is anything to celebrate). This completes the double bill of pieces, along with Clamber Up The Crucifix, that kicks off Off The Fence's 2014 season.
Vesta Tilley was the very antithesis of Marie Lloyd, her contemporary on the music hall circuit at the beginning of the 20th century. Where Marie was course and very working class, Vesta was sophisticated and middle class.
Vesta Tilley, born Matilda Alice Powles in Worcester in 1864, was child performer and adopted her preferred guise of man-drag at the age of 6. It was probably a foregone conclusion that she would be a performer as her father, veteran comedy actor, songwriter and music hall chairman Harry Ball, steered her professional life right from the off. He only relinquished his control when she married husband Walter de Freece at the age of 26.
It was Walters' aspiration to be an MP that steered Vesta into the patriotic recruitment period of her professional life and thence to her disillusioned retirement. Being a good Victorian wife Vesta did what her husband asked, even when she knew him to be wrong. It was Tilley's realisation that the young men she was recruiting off the back of her shows were going to their certain death or injury that precipitated her withdrawal from performing in 1920, just after her husband, ennobled for his war effort, finally became the MP he aspired to be.
All this is expertly portrayed by Becca Cooper alone on stage with an assortment of costumes. This one woman show is poignantly interspersed with an array of Tilley's own songs, betraying the influence for Oh What A Lovely War in 1963.
England Expects dispenses humour and pathos in equal measures and, again, highlights the appalling, unnecessary loss of life in the Great War. You can catch further performances at Upstairs at The Western on 6 March 2014 and at Curve on 19th April as part of the Inside Out Festival

© Paul Towers 4/3/2014

Clamber Up The Crucifix

My recent visits to Leicester's Upstairs at The Western have been for a wide range of fluffy, amusing Comedy Festival gigs so it was a nice change to be witness to a piece of emotionally draining theatre.
Clamber up the crucifix is as good a piece of anti war theatre as you are likely to see. Especially written for the World War One centenary and premiered by the awesome Off The Fence Theatre Company, this is a castigation of all war, especially the appalling waste of life at the beginning of the last century when soldiers were literally only cannon fodder.
Jonny McClean interprets admirably the many characters created by author John Kitchen in this sorry tale of Parker, a lowly telegraph operator in the dying days of the Great War, who is ruled by his conscience on that fateful day that peace was finally declared.
Told in a series of flashbacks, Parker's road to post traumatic stress disorder is chronicled from his arrival in the trenches of Flanders, a virginal new recruit, right up to his unsympathetic bundling into a lunatic asylum just as the Armistice came into force. Not only is his cavalier treatment by those that are supposed to care for him highlighted but, like Blackadder before it, this play focuses attention on the absolute stupidity of sending men to their certain death for no clear advantage.
Directed by the talented Gary Phillpott this play should be compulsory viewing for all apologists for armed conflicts. Clamber up the crucifix is on again at Upstairs at The Western on Weds 5 March 2014. Grab a ticket if there are any left. Tonight was completely sold out so good luck with that!

First published in Western Gazette 
© Paul Towers 3/3/2014

Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical

DeMontfort Hall in Leicester hosted a mere week of the touring version of the West End hit that is Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical. Judging by the audience reaction this is the ideal show for girls' nights out and hen parties as well as ladies and gentlemen of a certain persuasion.
Right from the minute the curtain rose and Miss Understanding burst out of the curtains to give us her Tina Turner we knew we were in for an evening of raucous fun. Priscilla is much more than a jukebox musical and all the numbers actually pertain to the story. However it is not afraid to mix pathos with potty mouthed humour and exuberant dance routines.
The costumes deserve much more than a mention. With some 500, yes FIVE HUNDRED, costumes you hardly have time to take in the sheer audacity of some of them before the next outrageous creation appears on the stage. The speed of some of the quick changes are amazing. The various frocks are a kaleidoscope of co lour, foam, feathers and sequins recreating every one of the remembered outfits from the film and a whole wardrobe of extra designs. To add to the familiarity of the show is the fact that every one of the laugh-out-loud moments from the film has been retained along with even more gags.
I was dubious about how they would tackle the bus, Priscilla herself, in a touring production but it is recreated marvelously and skids around the stage with almost a life of its own.
Altogether this is a camp romp through the sounds of the 80's piggy backed onto a great story of love lost and regained, friendships forged through adversity and small town bigotry overcome.

© Paul Towers 26/2/2014